Banning hugs and school violence

In his column a week ago, Leonard Pitts had this to say:

Sometimes — times of pain, times of commiseration, times of affection, times of joy — you just need to be held. So I was appalled to read this week about a school in Texas — Fossil Hill Middle in Fort Worth — where students are banned from hugging or even holding hands. And it turns out Fossil Hill is not the only one.

From Bend, Ore., to Oak Park, Ill., to Des Moines, Iowa, to Orlando, Fla., to, believe it or not, Cornwall, England, schools are banning hugs. Some say it’s because hugging creates congestion in the halls. But there are others who say these ”PDAs” — public displays of affection — are a gateway to sexual harassment.

My, my, my.

Honey, chill out


No one is pro-sexual harassment or, for that matter, pro-hallway congestion. But surely there are better solutions.

We’re not talking about kids groping and making out. We are talking about hugs. To hug is to reach across. It is to reaffirm common humanity. That is a powerful instinct.

Now the hug joins that long list of banned things. I guess kids who need consolation, kids primed for celebration, kids who just want to know that they are not alone will henceforth have to write text messages instead.

And progress marches on.

What Mr. Pitts did not talk about was what this school ban of hugs is really based on: fear of adolescent sexuality. Hugs can be amazingly sensual, sexy things. And administrators don’t want that in their hallways. But hugs are, as Mr. Pitts points out, also amazingly human.

And we must not dehumanize the school building more than it already is – with guards, metal detectors, regular locker searches, concrete yards, no windows in the classrooms. It sounds more like a prison than a school. And now we’re beginning to regulate genuine, humanizing touch between the young people at these institutions.

Perhaps what we need is more hugs, not less. Perhaps we need to recognize the humanity, including the need for physical touch, that exists in young people, rather than lock them away and treat them as though they are criminals.

When Asa Coon terrorized and shot his teachers and fellow students in Cleveland yesterday, it was not because he had experienced a shared humanity, or perhaps a shared anything, with them. Rather, it was because he had experienced violence as the solution in his personal life, he was ostracized, he felt excluded and laughed at. There is, of course, no excuse for what Mr. Coon did. Nevertheless, it is critical that we pay attention to what was behind his actions so that no one else chooses to take those same actions again.

Because here’s the thing: we don’t need more metal detectors, as has been called for in Cleveland. We need to make sure that teachers, counselors, students, everyone will reach out to anyone in pain. A person who is that angry, that full of grief and loneliness, will always find a way through any but the most extreme safety measures. And as Mr. Pitts says elsewhere in his column:

I’m just not convinced what we gain is worth all that we lose.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I got in trouble with a teacher I’d gotten along with really well up to that point, in high school, for hugging my boyfriend. I would have understood if we’d been kissing, but we weren’t; it was just a hug. I tried to deny that I’d done anything wrong but the teacher said, “I SAW you hug him!!!!” Guilty as charged.

    Human beings of any age need to touch other human beings. There need to be rules for appropriate behavior in different situations, of course, but disallowing it entirely is both counterproductive and very, very sad.

  2. This is what I say to the schools on banning hugs! Or one of them anyways.

    I am not a student of your school but it has not been long since i graduated. I SAW a student from YOUR school on the today show and i would like to say that YOU school are a disgrace. Where can i even begin??????????? I understand your no PDA policy, it’s always been implemented as long as i can remember but i have no clue, even after reading much of your guys explanation on the hug banning what the hell you guys are trying to pull. Hugging is a natural thing, no matter what spin you put on it. Where will you stop? You are confusing and killing the spirit inside all our youth. You may NOT see it now but how can you do this to children you claim to care about?? Parents, students alike are at an outrage if you havn’t already noticed. Why do you want to cause controversy????? A hug is a hug, kind of like walking or breathing??? Your telling me principal, for whatever reason, if a child needed a hug, you would not embrace that child???? How wrong can you be. I know where your trying to come from, inappropriate hugging, but how often does that really happen. And as for these “hug lines” and being late for class….come on. You just want a reason to control everything you can control. I applaud that girl for coming forward saying that she did NOTHING wrong, but yet got detention?????????????? I applaud the today show for getting this out there, what you schools are trying to do. I wish someone there would start a petition, i would sign it. Other schools have already. I understand schools must have rules and such but this has gone WAY TOO FAR. Did you hear about the child in Alabama who got detention for hugging a classmate who’s parent had died??????? What message are you sending to our precious youth, it makes me sick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I dont usually speak out but some things just pull on my heart strings and this is one of them. You should take this policy AWAYYYYYYYYY!!!!! you should go on a case by case basis. If you see something very inappropriate, then punish them accordingly. Stop punishing the warm innocent nature of our children or if this sticks, i know eventually it will escalate to banning other things. School is a learning environment but when you take away EVERYTHING, your going to cause more problems than good. You people with authority and power should take a loooooong hard look at this country’s history, we have been raising scholars and geniouses, etc, long before hugs were banned, (along with everything else) in schools. I mean, this country was formed on christian values, and we teach our kids faith and kindness and honesty and compassion and the responsibility to follow rules but yet we can not have the 10 commandments in our school systems. WAKE UP PEOPLE, let’s make everyday worth it. Stop trying to run these childrens lives and start teaching them something that means something. And stop taking away every little right these kids have. Can’t you remember when you were a child. Was a hug really that bad??????? Seems to me we need to remember a simpler time and simpler things, whether you believe that or not. More is not always better.

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